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May 27, 2004 9:02 | Updated May. 27, 2004 20:38
Cabinet to vote on plan's stage 1 of 4
By HERB KEINON AND TOVAH LAZAROFF
Prime Minster Ariel Sharon on Thursday presented his ministers with the final draft of his revised disengagement plan, ahead of the Sunday cabinet vote.
According to the draft, the cabinet will be asked to approve only the first of the plan's four stages - the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements of Netzarim, Rafah Yam and Morag. The remaining three stages will not be an official part of the cabinet decision, but will enter protocol under the obscure wording of "the government notes," rather than "the government decides".
Certain ministers expressed discomfort at the wording, saying it was unclear whether it meant the cabinet had, in effect, approved all the stages, Israel Radio reported.
Political sources speculate that only the first phase of the four-stage plan will be able to pass the cabinet. This way, they said, it will be possible to say to the Likud voters that their wishes as articulated in the referendum, which rejected disengagement, were not disregarded. These officials doubt he can pass his full plan.
While Sharon ideally would like the cabinet to approve the framework of the plan at Sunday's meeting and then approve each stage as the time comes, officials close to Sharon said it would be easier for him to support the plan if only the first stage is presented on Sunday.
Minister-without-Portfolio Uzi Landau said that Sharon is still holding out hope that he can pass the entire plan on Sunday.
"The first stage has a good chance to pass. If he brings the full disengagement plan, he doesn't have a majority. He wants to bring the full plan. I can't understand it. It makes no sense to me. No sober politician would do that," Landau said.
Each of the four stages must gain cabinet approval.
During the second stage, Homesh, Sa-nur, Ganim and Kadim in northern Samaria are to be evacuated. The third stage will include the rest of the Gush Katif settlements, and the fourth will see the evacuation of the northern Gaza settlements of Nissanit, Alei Sinai and Dugit.
No time line has been set, but it is believed that the first stage would take place in some seven months, and the second stage by the end of 2005.
After presenting his plan, Sharon telephoned Justice Minister Yossef Lapid (Shinui) to tell him he would on Sunday request ministers to approve only the first stage of the plan. However, Sharon added that he intends to announce to the Knesset that he hasn't abandoned his plans to eventually evacuate all of the Gaza Strip.
Lapid voiced his disappointment with such a move, but said he understood the problematic situation Sharon was in. He said Shinui ministers would on Sunday decide which way to vote.
Sharon responded to this by saying "the choice is between a minimized plan and nothing at all."
The National Union faction has called upon Likud ministers not to cooperate with Sharon, who is making what they call "a pathetic attempt to introduce through the back door what Likud members refused to let enter through the front."
Peace Now general-secretary Yariv Oppenheimer, on the other hand, called the revised plan "submission to right-wing extremists that is opposed to the wishes of the nation."
"By Sunday's cabinet meeting," Oppenheimer said, "the plan will encompass the evacuation of two potted plants."
Prior to the distribution of the revised plan drafts, Sharon met with ministers Netanyahu, Landau, Sharansky and Katz to discuss the plan, in his ongoing attempts to garner cabinet support for it.
After his meeting with Sharon, Netanyahu said he would only back the first stage of the plan, but not the entire framework, which "is, essentially, the same plan rejected by Likud members, only broken down into stages."
Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday said Sharon has the required support of 12 ministers to pass his revised disengagement plan in the cabinet on Sunday.
"As far as I understand, the support of the 12th minister has been promised," Olmert said, refusing to give the name of the minister.
It is estimated that Sharon has the support of four of his Likud party ministers - Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Olmert, Meir Sheetrit, Tzipi Livni, and Gideon Ezra - and Shinui's five ministers.
Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Limor Livnat, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom remain tight lipped about their positions. Sharon met Shalom and Livnat on Monday.
The Likud's Tzahi Hanegbi, Yisrael Katz, Uzi Landau, Dan Naveh, and Natan Sharansky, the National Union's two ministers, and the National Religious Party's two are believed to be firmly against the plan.
Even if Sharon receives approval for the first phase, it is unclear whether this would push the National Union and NRP out of the government or if they will wait until action is actually taken.